Warner, of Kingsport, died Saturday after an extended illness. He was 46.
He leaves a legacy of being extremely well respected by coaches and his peers.
Former David Crockett and current Unicoi County basketball coach John Good was always glad to see Warner officiate his games as well as the games Good’s children, Johneshia, C.J. and Patrick, played in.
“He was just a great person, first and foremost. He would always bring life to the game he was in,” Good said. “He didn’t take things personal and at the same time, he hoped that you didn’t. He was respectful and you knew what you were going to get with him.”
Good laughed when recalling how Warner never let their friendship affect the way he called the games.
“I was the first person to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and he was the first official to give me a technical,” Good said with a laugh. “He didn’t hold grudges and you knew what you were going to get. You could have a tough call during a game and then sit down and have dinner with him after the game.”
Sullivan South basketball coach Michael McMeans echoed many of those sentiments.
“He was one of the best refs and best human beings,” McMeans said. “You knew when he called your game that you would get a fair game. Every time I saw him off the court, he would give me a hug and ask about my family. This is a sad day to see him pass, but God has a good one in Heaven.”
Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip said Warner was passionate about his profession and called his death “a tremendous loss for East Tennessee athletics.”
Cloudland Principal Richard Church officiated many games with Warner. Church shared a tribute on his Facebook account and recalled when Jon Peters, Brad Christian, Warner and himself were rookie referees in 1996.
“Most of our photos are in stripes. We grew up together in officiating,” Church said. “We were on the floor every night from late October through March, then again in the summer. If there was a ball bouncing, we wanted to be close by.
“We had mentors like Ralph Stout, Jim Cradic and Larry Hutchinson with Butch Patterson guiding us on our way.”
Church talked about the common experiences and times on the road they shared as football and basketball officials.
“We laughed on road trips, held each other in check on the biggest games, had many great times and tough times together,” he said. “Through the state championships, car rides, dinners, hotel stays, cramped locker rooms, laughter and tears, Brent Warner was one of the kindest, most dedicated men, husbands, fathers and referees I have ever known.
“He would literally give you the shirt off his back and shoes off his feet to help you out. I know … I’ve taken both before! The biggest championship of all you’ve already been assigned and you will be the best on the floor.”
Bart Lyon, Greg Bradley, Danny Chandler and others offered tributes on Facebook. Lyon recalled how their group of officials of about the same age were often referred to as the “young guns.”
Lyon remembered a newspaper article in which Warner talked about Patterson, Hutchinson and Dennis Whitson taking the young officials under their wings. Stout, then head of officials, put Christian, Lyon and Warner together for a showdown between Elizabethton and Tennessee High, a matchup that featured veteran coaches Tony Hardin and Dale Burns.
“The gym was packed. This was a very big game for three young refs,” Lyon said. “We survived and the coaches had no complaints. Two really good teams playing hard and three young refs tickled to death that we didn’t mess up. Our high school careers took off after that.”
Once Warner became a veteran official, he passed on his knowledge as a mentor to younger refs such as Adam Buckles, who called him “irreplaceable as an individual.”
“I could call him any time during the day and he would help you any way he could,” Buckles said. “There’s not enough words to describe how much he helped me. We talked basketball for hours and hours. He had a heart of gold, a special individual who will be missed by all.”
Warner, a 1991 graduate of Sullivan North, was always in shape for the season. He was an avid runner who completed the New York City Marathon.